"Alexander Fights a Sea Battle", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi
Amir Khusrau Dihlavi (1253–1325)
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Attributed to India
Main support: Ink, opaque watercolor, gold on paper Margins: Gold on dyed paper
H. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm) W. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm)
Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913
Not on view
In the episode illustrated, Alexander the Great has ordered the construction of a tall tower surmounted by a revolving mirror in order to battle the pirates menacing the Mediterranean Sea. The protagonists appear as contemporary Indians wearing turbans and tunics, rather than ancient Greeks, and one of the fighters uses a gun, an invention from nearly two millennia after Alexander’s time.
Nizami's account of Alexander's mirror, a technically masterful object used for personal comtemplation, is recast by Khusraw to accommodate a further-reaching function: the magical reflection of all activity within a radius of sixty leagues. This difference in nature is manifested in the two contemporary Mughal illustrations of the respective subjects. A double-page composition on folios 16b and 17a of the Walters section of the 1595 Khamsa of Nizami (fig. 67 in this volume) shows the process of working the bellows, forging the red-hot metal into round mirrors, and burnishing a nearly finished product. In contrast, this full-page illustration from the Khamsa of Amir Khusraw draws its imagery from the text passages that precede it. These describe Alexander's order to construct at the edge of the Sea of Rum (the Mediterranean Sea) a tall tower, which is surmounted by a revolving mirror cast under a magical spell. Alexander then orders a hundred ships readied to sail against pirates whose location and activities the surface of this powerful beacon reveals, a detail that Dharmadasa carefully includes.
The outcome of the great naval battle has not yet been determined. Alexander's troops set out from beneath the shadow of their guiding beacon to pursue a more numerous and more heavily armed enemy, their surge reinforced by a series of jutting banks. Dharmadasa uses the dynamic zigzag arrangement of land, stern, and prow to create a compositional clarity absent from most land encounters, thereby encouraging the viewer to perceive each vessel's gamut of grim combatants as a unit. This effect is enhanced by the typically taut features and directed glances of Dharmadasa's figures.
The artist employs a similarly elevated viewpoint and active landscape in folio 76a of the British Library Akbarnama and folio 195a of the British Library Khamsa of Nizami. The latter painting is particularly close to this scene, feauturing not only a tall tower, but also a genre scene of herdsmen and a muted palette. Such comparisons leave no doubt about the validity of this painting's ascription, which is written on a bit of paper cut from the original border and later applied to the lower right corner of the work.
John Seyller in [Seyller 2001]
1. The paintings are reproduced in color in Brend, Barbara. The Emperor Akbar's Khamsa of Nizami. London: The British Library, 1995, figs. 27 and 28.
2. The former painting is published in R. Pinder-Wilson. "History and Romance in Mughal India." Oriental Art, 13 (1967), 63; the latter painting is reproduced in color in Brend 1995 (note 1), fig. 24.
Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
Inscription: 'amal-i Dharmadasa
Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
Indianapolis. Indiana University. "East-West in Art," June 1, 1966–October 1, 1966, no catalogue.
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi (1597/98)," June 9, 2005–September 4, 2005, no. XX.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi (1597/98)," October 14, 2005–March 12, 2006, no. XX.
Valentiner, William Reinhold. "The Cochran Collection of Persian Manuscripts." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 8 (1913). pp. 80-86.
Bowie, Theodore Robert, and T. Brend. East-West in Art. Patterns of Aesthetic and Cultural Relationships. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1966. ill. fig. 307.
Brend, Barbara. "Akbar's Khamsa of Amir Khursaw Dihlavi-A Reconstruction of the Cycle of Illustration." Artibus Asiae vol. 49, nos. 3, 4 (1988/89). ill. pl. 12.
Seyller, John. "The Walters Art Museum Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi." In Pearls of the Parrot of India.. Baltimore, MD: Walters Art Museum, 2001. no. XX, pp. 84-85, ill. fig. 25 (color).
Brend, Barbara. "Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsa." In Perspectives on Persian Painting. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. pp. 198, 226-38, pp. 48, 264.